by Walker Moore
Awe Star Ministries
Whenever I pass a rack of magazines, I notice the trend of putting teasers on the covers, like “41 Ways to Eat Ice Cream without Gaining an Ounce” or “13 Ways to Recycle Old Pantyhose.” Some of these catch my attention more than others. I realized that to be in vogue, the title of my article should contain a number with some kind of intriguing hook. So I present, “Six Things You Should Never Discuss with Your Children.” If you want to raise dysfunctional children, these are the six things you should never talk with them about.
On the “Traditionalist Statement”:
Some Friendly Reflections from a Calvinistic Southern Baptist
by Nathan Finn, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Historical Theology & Baptist Studies
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
When the “Traditionalist Statement” was published in May 2012, I confess I had mixed feelings about the document.1 On the one hand, I believe that confessional statements (and similar documents) are helpful tools for various groups of Baptists to more clearly communicate their convictions. This is especially important in a tradition that has never been defined by a single, authoritative confession along the lines of the Westminster Confession of Faith for Presbyterians or the Augsburg Confession for Lutherans. Furthermore, there is little doubt that the nature of soteriology is an area in desperate need of clear communication by Southern Baptists on all sides of this discussion. I am grateful to Eric Hankins and others who drafted, signed, and promoted the Traditionalist Statement. We need more documents like this, not less.
On the other hand, I had several concerns about the Traditionalist Statement. For starters, I disagreed with some of the positions put forward in the document. If the vision set forth in this manifesto represents a traditional Southern Baptist view of soteriology, then I am definitely not a traditional Southern Baptist; this is a somewhat depressing thought for one who spends much of his time studying and teaching others about Southern Baptist history. Second, I was concerned about the widely circulated rumor that some of the signatories of the Traditionalist Statement wanted the SBC to formally adopt the statement as some sort of litmus test for our agencies and boards. Whether this was merely a blogosphere conspiracy or whether there was at least tentative talk of a litmus test is still very much in dispute, depending upon whom you ask. Third, I was disappointed at some of the rancor that was displayed by folks on both sides of the debate, especially on the internet. The polemical heat did not seem to bode well for Southern Baptist unity.2 Finally, I feared that the Traditionalist Statement would provide an occasion for distraction from our primary task as Southern Baptists: cooperating together to play our part in fulfilling the Great Commission.3
I have been asked to offer some friendly reflections on the Traditionalist Statement from the perspective of a Calvinistic Southern Baptist.4 Because of my understanding of soteriology, I disagree with most of the affirmations and denials in the Traditionalist Statement. I have a different understanding of the relationship between Adam’s original sin and subsequent human sin, the nature of free will, the meaning of election, the intent of the atonement, and the efficaciousness of grace. I would also nuance the section on the gospel differently than the Traditionalist Statement. While I agree that all people are “capable of responding” to the good news, I also believe that sin has so blinded humanity that nobody will choose to believe the gospel without the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit. I have no qualms with the words in the articles on eternal security and the Great Commission, though I recognize I bring different theological assumptions to these articles than the framers of the Traditionalist Statement.5 I could not sign the Traditionalist Statement in good conscience because I do not believe it accurately summarizes the biblical understanding of salvation.
As a Calvinistic Southern Baptist, I respectfully disagree with the soteriological convictions held by my Traditionalist brothers and sisters in Christ. I see no need to say much further on this point. Rather, in this short essay, I will focus my reflections on the document’s Preamble, since this section speaks more to the occasion for and potential uses of the Traditionalist Statement. I share these thoughts out of a sincere desire to see better understanding, closer cooperation, and a greater sense of spiritual unity among Southern Baptists with differing opinions about election, the intent of the atonement, and the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation. As I wrote in a previous essay,
The Calvinism issue is not going to go away, so Southern Baptists must be willing to discuss and debate openly the doctrines of grace in an effort to be biblically accurate and perhaps come to a greater theological consensus in the years to come. If we are to move toward a more cooperative future, we must all be committed to defending and commending our particular convictions, but not at the expense of either our cooperation with one another or our personal sanctification.6
It is in this spirit that I engage with the Traditionalist Statement’s Preamble. I want to pose two questions to those who helped draft the Traditionalist Statement or who resonated enough with the document to affix their signatures to it during the summer of 2012.7 I hope my Traditionalist friends will receive these questions in the spirit they are being asked.
What Makes Traditionalists Traditional?
Like many observers, I confess I was a bit confused that the authors and early signatories of the document in question chose to call their views “traditional” and identified themselves as “Traditionalists.” I have a theory about this approach, which may or may not be true (please correct me if I am missing something). I think that Traditionalists are upset that many Calvinists …*
1The full title of the document is “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” It was published at the blog SBC Today, available online at http://sbctoday.com (accessed September 6, 2013).
2I was pleased at how Executive Committee President Frank Page brought together representatives from both perspectives to craft a winsome consensus statement. While real differences remain, it seems the document drafted by Page’s committee has helped bring about a more mature and Christ-like tone to the discussion. See “TRUTH, TRUST, and TESTIMONY IN A TIME OF TENSION,” SBC Life (June–August, 2013), available online at http://www.sbclife.org/Articles/2013/06/sla5.asp (accessed September 6, 2013).
3On the latter point, I helped to draft a response to the Traditionalist Statement by the contributors to Between
the Times, the faculty blog of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. See “‘A Statement of the Traditional Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation’: A Brief Response,” Between the Times (May 31, 2012), available online at http://betweenthetimes.com. (accessed October 21, 2013).
4When asked to clarify my views, I describe myself as an evangelical Calvinist. As an evangelical Calvinist, I combine an evangelical understanding of conversion and mission with a Calvinistic understanding of soteriology. Earlier generations of Baptists described views like mine as “Fullerite,” after the famous English Baptist pastor-theologian Andrew Fuller. For more on Fuller and “Fullerism,” see Peter J. Morden, Offering Christ to the World: Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) and the Revival of Eighteenth Century Particular Baptist Life, Studies in Baptist History and Thought, vol. 8 (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK, and Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2003), and Paul Brewster, Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor- Theologian, Studies in Baptist Life and Thought (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010). My use of the Calvinist label should not be construed as my approbation of Reformed pedobaptist understandings of ecclesiology, the sacraments, or the relationship between church and state.
5I offer this qualification because I respect the principle of authorial intent when it comes to interpreting confessions of faith. This means I recognize that the words of a confessional statement must be interpreted in light of its framers; I am not free to interpret their statement according to my own understanding. This seems to be the position that has the most interpretive integrity and shows neighbor love to the framers of a confession of faith.
6Nathan A. Finn, “Southern Baptist Calvinism: Setting the Record Straight,” in Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, ed. E. Ray Clendenen and Brad J. Waggoner (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 192.
7Before the list of signatories was taken down in July 2012, the Traditionalist Statement had garnered over 800 endorsements, including six former SBC presidents and two sitting seminary presidents. See “Framers of TS Re- move Signatory List,” SBC Today (July 14, 2012), available online at http://sbctoday.com/2012/07/14/framers-of-ts- remove-signatory-list/#more-8906 (accessed October 21, 2013). The signatories list was subsequently posted and is available online at http://connect316.net/signers (accessed November 28, 2013).
*Click HERE to read the rest of this post by downloading the FREE, 2-volume
NOBTS Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry.
SBCToday reprinted with permission the above excerpt.
by Preston Nix, Ph.D.
Professor of Evangelism and Evangelistic Preaching/Roland Q. Leavell Chair of Evangelism.
Director of the Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health
Chairman of the Pastoral Ministries Division
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
(Ed.’s note: SBCToday sought permission from Dr. Nix to post a portion of his essay below, and in his emailed reply granting that permission, Dr. Nix stated:
“My prayer is that the Lord will use the essay to challenge both traditional Southern Baptists as well as Calvinists to share their faith boldly and consistently with the lost. If all of us as Southern Baptists, whichever side of the theological fence we are on, do not get back to basic evangelism and missions, our theological debates will continue to be a distraction from our purpose as the church and an indictment to our denomination. May the Lord bless your work of speaking to Southern Baptists on the issues of our day.”
Not only did God provide the means whereby lost humanity can be saved, but also God ordained the method whereby the message of salvation is to be communicated to the lost world. Of all the methods that the Lord could have employed to communicate the gospel to a lost and dying world, God in His sovereignty chose to use the method of human instrumentality to accomplish that task. Jesus commissioned the church to communicate His saving grace to all peoples in all the nations of the world throughout all time. This call in Scripture to join the Lord in reaching the world with the message of salvation is known as the Great Commission. The term itself indicates that followers of Jesus Christ are expected to partner with the Lord in His mission of reaching the world with His message of salvation, hence the word “Commission,” indicating a joint mission effort between God and man.
by Steve Horn, pastor
FBC, Lafayette, La.
Dr. Horn has served in various denominational roles,
including president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
One afternoon a few years ago, a couple who lived down the street from the church came to see me. The woman pulled out a copy of Charles Stanley’s Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure? and asked, “Do you believe what’s in this book?” I confessed that I had not read it but was reasonably sure that I believed what was in it. The couple went on to tell me that they had bought the book simply because of the title. The woman had read the whole thing in one evening, and her husband had read enough of it the next morning to get the essential idea. Seeing on the book jacket that Stanley was a Baptist, they decided to go to the nearest Baptist church to get more details. Coming from a religious tradition that had taught them that it was impossible, even perhaps sinful and certainly arrogant, to claim assurance of salvation, this couple was eager to know the peace and joy that accompanies eternal security.
The doctrine of the eternal security of the believer is of great significance for Southern Baptists and is central to the way we do the work of evangelism and discipleship. One might suppose that all Southern Baptists agree on this matter and that, therefore, this is not one of the contested doctrines in the current Calvinist debate. Indeed, the idea of eternal security is stated unequivocally in Article 5 of the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM).
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
The language of Article 12 of the Abstract of Principles is quite similar. The issues of greatest concern in both of these documents are the genuineness of conversion, the impossibility of apostasy, and the inevitability of some continued sin in the life of the genuine believer. Any Southern Baptist confession seeking to aver salvation by faith through grace alone must also have this kind of strong statement concerning eternal security. Millard Erickson gets to the crux of this issue. On one hand, a theology that does not affirm eternal security leads to anxiety about one’s spiritual condition. On the other, a view of eternal security that does not point to genuine conversion leads to “indifference to the moral and spiritual demand of the gospel.”
Calvinists and Traditionalists agree about the reality of eternal security, but this does not mean that there are no serious issues to unravel in the discussion. First, what is the basis of assurance? Second, can one affirm perseverance without necessarily committing himself to all of the other “doctrines of grace”? Third, how does each perspective deal with the difficult passages which seem to hold to some form of apostasy? Fourth, can the wrong view of assurance lead to “false conversions”?
What is the Basis of Assurance?
Even though the differences between the Abstract, which is more Calvinistic, and the BFM appear to be slight, they illustrate a challenging dynamic even within this supposedly uncontested doctrine. The BFM begins with the declaration, “All true believers endure to the end,” which inserts the language of the New Hampshire Confession’s article on perseverance before the first sentence of the Abstract. The BFM, therefore, begins the discussion of perseverance with an emphasis on belief, which is muted in the Abstract. The clear implication is that the BFM seeks to make clear that believing is the basis for security. Additionally, the BFM makes specific that it is “believers” who are the subject of God’s preserving power. The direction of Southern Baptist soteriology as it moved into the twentieth century was toward an emphasis on the centrality of belief as the basis for assurance, buttressed by the reality of sanctification.
While most Southern Baptists tend to use “perseverance of the saints” and “eternal security” interchangeably, nuances in the terminology also reveal the differences in the bases of assurance. The Calvinist view of “perseverance of the saints” places the emphasis of assurance on the evidence of the believer’s activity rather than the believer’s faith in the provision of Christ. The danger, of course, is that such thinking can slide inadvertently into a works-oriented basis for security. Consider this example from the popular and prolific John Piper: “It’s true that Paul believed in the eternal security of the elect (‘Those whom [God] justified he also glorified’ [Rom 8:30]). But the only people who are eternally secure are those who ‘make their calling and election sure’ by fighting the good fight of faith and laying hold on eternal life. Such reasoning complicates the issue of eternal security and potentially leads to more doubt than assurance by making the works of obedience the basis of eternal security rather than promises of Christ that belong to the believer by faith. There is, to be sure, a tension in Scripture due to its exhortative nature.
Ken Keathley, however, manages the tension between faith and works in this way: “Good works and the evidences of God’s grace do not provide assurance. They provide warrant to assurance but not assurance itself.” Therefore, to avoid confusion about what is meant about our view of assurance, it may be better to speak of “security of the believer,” rather than “perseverance of the saints.” Security of the believer emphasizes a present state-of-being based on faith that persists into the future rather than the continual manifestation of certain actions in the future. Eternal security is the companion of salvation by grace. One of the reasons that Baptists have overwhelmingly believed in a doctrine of eternal security is the strong belief in salvation by grace. Belief in the work of Christ for salvation results in the assurance of salvation. As Keathley notes, “Assurance of salvation must be based on Jesus Christ and His work for us—nothing more and nothing less.
Can Someone Affirm Eternal Security
Without Affirming All Five Points of the TULIP?
Eternal security revolves around two significant questions. First, can one know with certainty that he is saved? Second, can the one who knows with certainty today that he is saved trust that he will never fall away permanently? Southern Baptists of all stripes want to answer with a resounding “yes” to both questions. Either individuals have the promise of eternal security or they do not. The discussion is often framed as if there are only two options—the Calvinist position that says “yes” and the Arminian position that says “no.”
If Calvinism is the only option for a strong view of eternal security, then the real possibilities for dialogue among Southern Baptists will be at impasse. In this arrangement, it is supposed that the non-Calvinist cannot affirm assurance of salvation because agnosticism on the issue of assurance is fundamental to Arminianism. Though he certainly cannot speak for every Calvinist, the language of Erwin Lutzer is the sort of tone that creates potential for heated and unhelpful debate. Lutzer says, “Whether or not you believe in eternal security depends on where you stand on the free-will controversy…The free will that accepts Christ is the same free will that can reject him.”
Tom Ascol follows Lutzer at this point. In a blog post criticizing the Tradtional Statement, Ascol writes:…*
Charles Stanley, Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990). Stanley tells the story of how he came to reject the erroneous view of apostasy that he had learned in a Pentecostal Holiness church.
See as an example the Roman Catholic View as presented in Kenneth D. Keathley, “Perseverance and Assurance of the Saints,” in Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, ed. Da- vid L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 168.
For example, the 2013 document Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension: A Statement from the Calvinism Advisory Committee does not include any reference to the understanding of eternal security in the list of tensions.
Noticeably absent from both is the language of the Westminster Confession, XVII, 2, which states, “This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election …”
Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2d. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 997.
John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions, 2d. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 46.
Keathley, “Perseverance and Assurance of the Saints,” 186.
Keathley has succinctly presented the issues at hand. See “Perseverance and Assurance” in Whosoever Will and “The Word of God: Salvation,” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: B&H Aca- demic, 2007), 760–1.
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 985–7. This criticism notwithstanding, Erickson does a superb job of succinctly describing the two opposing views, supplying the important Scriptural texts that support each view and drawing the conclusion that the majority of Southern Baptists will affirm the certainty of eternal security.
Erwin Lutzer, The Doctrines that Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines that Separate Christians (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998), 225.
*Click HERE to read the rest of this post by downloading the FREE, 2-volume NOBTS Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry.
SBCToday reprinted with permission the above excerpt.
by Doug Sayers
Like many other Bible believers, I have had to wrestle with the longstanding debate between salvation by grace and salvation by irresistible grace (aka: Calvinism).
Again, like many today, I was a young believer when first introduced to the Calvinistic system. Sadly, the first book given to me at my first church (a non-Calvinistic one) was about the end times. You may have heard of it: “The Late Great Planet Earth.” That book was absolutely no match for J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, which I soon received through my college Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship group.